Could it be any more iconic! Having taken an almost ten-year break (I know, I'm old) we're starting from the pilot and going on a nostalgic binge through all ten seasons to test how well Friends has held up. Right from the off I should say I will be a little biased, as this is a show I used to watch almost every night for several years straight, but I am also going in against a backdrop of warnings about mild homophobia, transphobia and a generally less ethical brand of comedy.
I think it's fair that there has been a little controversy surrounding the 20-year-old show. Yes, there are moments where the cast are a little homophobic, though it's never overt, and one particularly "wow" moment where Phoebe, the traditionally liberal one, has a song lyric about bisexuals just "not being able to make up their mind", which is definitely bigoted in hindsight. That said, so far (with that one exception) pretty much everything shown has been comedy or character, not bigotry, and that's a clear distinction. Does Ross have a hard time around Susan and Carol? Yes, but is that homophobic or reactive to the facts of his situation. Is Chandler weird about his dad? Yes, but ditto. I'm not saying their reactions, comments, or jibes are morally right – far from it – but they are in-character and relevant to the plot. In that sense, I think you can forgive them.
In another sense, though, this is a 90s show with an openly gay lesbian couple raising a child and a transvestite father figure enjoying a successful career. Yes, it is woefully lacking in non-white characters – particularly in the first few seasons – and yes, it is insensitive at times, but taken within the context of when it was made I find it hard to conclude that the show was anything other than progressive and judging it otherwise feels unfair.
Societal criticisms aside, I had forgotten how bad the pilot was. It's not awful, but it isn't really that indicative of who these characters become. Similarly, the various friends all clearly take a season or two to settle into the people that make the show great, which means that the initial half a season or so can be a little weird at times. Pacing is also a bit all over the place and the camera work is often less than ideal, but these are minor niggles. Basically, it's clear that the show was an experiment and didn't have a huge budget, but even in this first season the writing is clever enough and the jokes funny enough that I can see why it caught on.
Personally, I'm having a fun nostalgia trip and still finding myself laughing my ass off, so I can't complain at all. Bring on the binge!